With chef Ben Murphy aiming to put a little bit of fun back into fine dining, Lisa Jenkins samples cuisine with craic
Ben Murphy seems to be inspired by stimulating colleagues. His general manager at Launceston Place in Kensington, London, is Sandro Alessandrini, with Maze and the Dorchester on his CV, and his head sommelier is Piotr Pietras, winner of the UK Best Young Sommelier 2017 title. If Murphy’s food at the Woodford in north-east London last year was good – and he was declared Chef to Watch in the Good Food Guide 2017 – it’s even better at Launceston Place.
The fine-dining environment of Launceston Place has recently undergone a refurbishment, which has introduced subtle greys and some interesting, edgy touches. Despite being tucked away in a discreet corner of Kensington, the restaurant was almost full on a Thursday night.
When announcing Murphy’s arrival at Launceston Place in January this year, D&D informed the world that its new chef’s ambition was to create modern and exciting menus.
So has he done so? “Yes, I think so,” he says. “But I’d like to think that what we do is a bit more fun than other fine-dining restaurants.”
The tasting menu is scattered with emojis. “We want our customers to feel relaxed when they come in, but we want to surprise them too – and to keep them in suspense,” he explains.
“It’s our way of lightening up the menu but keeping the dishes high-end. It’s all part of delivering a memorable fine-dining experience that isn’t intimidating.”
The menu is modern and innovative, featuring dishes that Murphy has developed from his childhood favourites, such as a Solero lolly or egg and soldiers. He aims to maximise a single flavour on the plate without overcomplicating it. For example, the trimmings of a butternut squash dish are used for an accompanying ice-cream, while the squash skin is the source of an oil used on the same dish.
He describes his food as fun and quirky. “The emojis add a touch of humour, but we’re not mucking around. I’ve been classically trained and that’s what the dishes are – but in a modern way.” His favourite creation is currently carrot, lovage, yogurt and caraway, which centres on simply roasted carrots. The skin of the carrot is made into a powder, then blended with oats and caraway seeds, lovage emulsion and caraway yogurt. “I like this dish because it’s simple, basic produce, and we’ve turned it into something special that you don’t expect. And I think it’s quite brave to serve just a carrot,” he says.
Best-selling dishes include the presa Iberica with aubergine and ponzu, and the octopus with chorizo and chicken wing, but his customers also love the home-made bread and butter and canapés served with every meal.
The tasting menu is £79, with an additional £64 for standard wine pairings. The two-course set lunch costs £25, the three-course set lunch is £30, the five-course lunchtime tasting menu is £54, and the three-course à la carte dinner menu is £60. The restaurant takes an average of £35 per person for lunch and £95 for dinner, and serves around 50 diners on a Friday evening.
Murphy is using D&D’s suppliers, some of which are the same ones he used at Pierre Koffmann’s – “in his youth”. Flying Fish Seafood, Mash, Ritter Courivaud and British Premium Meats are regularly at the door. He showcases these ingredients with dishes such as his pigeon special (simply pigeon and foie gras in puff pastry – a very modern twist on a traditional Wellington) and a fish dish of halibut with verjus and summer vegetables.
Among the nostalgic puddings are a pre-dessert of burnt lemon with poppy seeds and meringue served in an actual burnt lemon resting on charcoal in a bowl of dry ice, which is activated at the table.
When it comes to the kitchen, Murphy rotates his 10-strong team around the sections to keep them motivated and learning new skills. He also says he might take on an apprentice once he’s settled in.
Meanwhile, he’s enjoying the challenge. “Alessandrini and I are managing the business together, and Pietras is incredible,” he says. “We work together to develop the dishes based on some of the more unusual wine profiles, such as Blandy’s 20-year-old Terrantez Madeira from Portugal, served with the butternut squash.”
Murphy started his career at the Berkeley under three-Michelin-starred chef Koffmann, who has already popped into the restaurant a couple of times. Launceston Place, too, used to hold a Michelin star under chef Tim Allen. And with Murphy in the kitchen now, it may do so again.
From the menu
• Spelt, quail’s eggs and herbs
• Mackerel, cucumber and lovage
• Beetroot and goats’ cheese omelette
• Octopus, chorizo and chicken wing
• Lamb, girolles and vin jaune
• Monkfish, banana and onion
• Spag bol, celeriac and lentil
• Solero, coconut and cherry
• Chocolate, yuzu and sesame
• Apricot and almond nuts and bolts
1a Launceston Place, London W8 5RL